Andrew Walsh helps us navigate through the clutter of online information with his book.
Andrew Walsh has a book out called Savvy for the Social Web: The New Skills You Need to Survive and Thrive in the Digital Age. In this interview, he shares his ideas about maintaining creativity while multitasking. I know there are people out there who are not fond of running several projects at the same time. Andrew explains his way as he explores the complicated realm of being an author, webmaster and soccer player. No kidding. If you have a love for writing and you want to know how to maximize getting what you want when you are looking for something e.g. research and research tools, then read on.
Now that your new book Savvy for the Social Web: The New Skills You Need to Survive and Thrive in the Digital Age is out, what are the things that you’re glad are over, and what are the situations you look forward to in this ongoing book promotion.
I’m definitely glad that the editing and formatting are over! This side of the writing process often gets brushed over when you are talking about the benefits of self-publishing (I went for Amazon Kindle), but it’s a crucial and very time-consuming part. I decided to do everything myself (including creating a cover image) because I wanted to understand the whole experience. It was certainly valuable, but next time I might outsource a few of these tasks.
I like how you call the promotion process ongoing, because that’s exactly how I’ve thought of it. It really takes a continued effort to build traction. One thing I found especially useful was entering my book into Amazon’s KDP Select program. Every 90-day period I get an opportunity to run a promotion where my book can be downloaded for free. I did this at launch, promoted with a few ebook discount sites, and got hundreds of downloads. This was great for a couple reasons. First, my book reaches a wider audience and people can read it who might not have a lot of extra cash to spend. Second, it helped get more reviews and a better reputation for Amazon’s algorithm, which is good for long-term visibility. That’s the power of using Amazon’s platform: there are tons of places your book might pop up, such as category lists and recommended items.
You are a librarian and instructor at the University of West Georgia where you teach a class on college-level research. You also run six websites. Where do you get all the energy to manage your affairs?
It’s definitely a lot to handle! I actually have more than six sites although a few were started as hobby projects and are not updated regularly. The first thing I’d say is that the same passion drives both my professional career and my primary blog, Social Web Q and A. I’m fascinated by the ways new technologies are changing the way we find, evaluate and use information and this is what gets me excited to teach college students how to do better research, as well as pen blog posts about new technologies and social media.
Other than that, using an editorial calendar has really helped me stay up with my various projects. I use a calendar template in Google Drive and use it to aggregate all my writing tasks. When I finish one, I change its text color to red. If I have to push back a deadline because something comes up unexpectedly, I don’t delete the text, but instead mark it in strikethrough, so I can get a good long-term sense of what workload is realistic for me. It also has a psychological effect; once I get going and see several consecutive days of red text, I don’t want to “break the chain.” This is a productivity secret learned from Jerry Seinfeld of all people!
You received a Spanish degree in 2009 from Grinnell College. Why Spanish?
I’ve always been fascinated by learning languages. It started with an after-school program in elementary school and even in those days I made it a goal to learn as much as I could and improve my accent so I’d sound just like a native speaker.
In high school and college I studied both Spanish and Japanese and got hooked on Latin American literature after reading authors like Borges and Garcia Marquez. Spanish was my favorite course in college so I decided to become a major. This course of study actually sparked my interest in librarianship as well. When I was looking at post-college employment prospects, I became interested in being a Latin American subject specialist in a research library, but after poking around the field a while, technology and user instruction became my primary passion.
Now it’s been a few years since I’ve studied Spanish formally and I’m trying to keep up my skills. It’s difficult because I don’t speak very regularly, but I do make it a point to read news or watch videos in Spanish. What I really need to do is seek out a conversation group.
Based on your observation with regards to the evolution of research tools online, what are the changes in the past 10 years? What do you think will evolve ten years from now?
We’ve seen some huge changes over the past 10 or so years. For everyday information needs, search engines became the dominant way of doing research and the web transformed from a space we thought could be carefully categorized by humans (as with many early web directory projects) into an ever-expanding universe that had to be tackled algorithmically.
Today, one of the biggest shifts is toward an increasingly personalized web search experience. Google, for example, now takes dozens of signals into account before deciding what results to give you. Eli Pariser calls the resulting experience a “filter bubble” and warns against the practice, since it means you miss out on valuable alternative viewpoints. Based on your previous click history, for example, Google can make a very good guess as to your political orientation, and then will give you more and more results that it thinks you will like. You’ll click them at a higher rate, of course, which leads to more advertising dollars, but these sources will usually only affirm what you already believe, and you won’t have much exposure to views outside of your “bubble.”
The hardline stance against these “filter bubbles” calls for no personalization at all, but I think that would be a major waste. Think of the convenience we get from searching for a restaurant or movie theater and not having to specify where we are, for example. Or tracking down a great link we’ve already visited but can’t quite remember where. The real questions to ask, in my opinion, are what power do we have to choose the level of personalization, what are companies doing with my data, and how transparent is the process. It’s also important to note that there are search engines designed with exactly this in mind, such as Duck Duck Go.
To take the question in a more academic direction, we’re seeing a major clash between large for-profit publishers and a growing open-access movement arguing that university research should be available for free to anyone. This wasn’t much of an issue when print was the dominant form, because it was a vital step to have the private sector professionally publish journals and then sell them back to libraries.
But now that distribution over the internet makes knowledge sharing very cheap, do we really need to spend so much? Single journals can cost academic libraries tens of thousands of dollars per year, and shrinking budgets are only increasing these calls for open access. Critics also point out the fact that professors are supplying the product (their articles) to publishers “for free” only to have those companies slap a huge price tag on it and sell it right back to the same universities.
One might say, however, that the real problem lies in the tenure and promotion system at our universities and the “publish or perish” mentality that places huge weight on big-name journals and makes academics hesitant to shake things up too much and publish their work according to emerging open access models.
And as I alluded to in my answer to #1, there are a lot more costs associated with publishing a work than most people realize, and these will always have to be paid in some manner. I do believe in open access and think it will be a growing force in the next 10 years, but there are still a lot of tough business questions to be answered.
Writing has been part of your life even as a toddler. Tell me about your literary influences as a child and how they shaped your interest as an adult?
Writing was a big part of growing up for me and my family had always the strongest influence. My mother is a copyeditor and my father writes fiction so I had excellent support from them as I started to craft my own pieces of various sorts. But it all actually started way before then. When I was born my father was in the process of writing his dissertation in literary criticism. As a baby, I naturally didn’t like to let anyone get much sleep, so when I’d wake them up at an early hour my dad would take me with him and sit me on his lap while he got in a few hours of writing. This always calmed me down, and he’d give me my own pen so I’d feel like a part of the action. As I grew I started to scribble on my own, and eventually I’d mimic the way my dad filled up his notebooks. He always wrote fully-formed sentences on the right-hand page and rough notes on the left, and he’d often draw fancy decorated page numbers in the top corner for my benefit because I liked the way they looked. We had this morning ritual for many years, and I still think about it today when I sit down to write. There were also always mountains of books around our house, and I was always especially curious in whatever my dad was reading or had recently acquired.
Also, my grandfather is an author of biography and history of famous figures and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up. For each book he writes, he conducts exhaustive research about famous figures such as Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, and Abraham Lincoln. As I got older and became able to appreciate his books more, I became excited about both the writing process as well as the way he devoted so many hours to library research.
What are the top five books you would recommend today?
The Information Diet by Clay Johnson – In this book Johnson compares our information consumption habits today to unhealthy eating, which I found to be a great metaphor. He doesn’t go as far with solutions as I might like, but The Information Diet had a strong impact on how I view my own information habits.
Too Big to Know by Dave Weinberger – Weinberger is a technology writer and philosopher and this book is an excellent analysis of how networked knowledge and other information shifts are radically redefining our understanding of expertise and “the truth.”
The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel – For an exploration into the enduring cultural impact of libraries and books, look no further than Manguel. This book takes you on a whirlwind tour throughout history and every page features at least one passage you’ll just have to write down and keep with you.
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg – This book demonstrates why it’s so difficult to change our behavior, tapping into the psychology of habit formation to show how we can become aware of the loops we are stuck in and how we can break out of them.
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt – This work of moral psychology provides a great explanation as to why we are becoming increasingly divided by politics and religion today, as well as what we can do to better understand the situation.
I enjoyed reading your “5 Tips on Blog Post Writing That Will Help You Stand Out.” As a blogger, your writing tips are very helpful. What are the other tips you can mention in terms of getting more followers not just through the blog but through various social networking sites like Twitter and also facebook for those with fan pages?
When trying to attract more followers, it’s only natural to want to immediately reach out to as many people as you can, but I believe that it all starts with you. There are millions of blogs on the web today, so it’s crucial to take a step back and define what is unique about yours. In marketing this is called the “unique selling proposition” and I think every blogger needs to have one. The second a new visitor lands on your site he or she should have a good idea of what your site provides that won’t be found anywhere else. This same core message should also be communicated through all of your promotional channels, including Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.
I’d also recommend bloggers take a strategic look at why they decided to start a presence on particular networks and what their goals are. It’s easy to sign up for a profile on a bunch of popular social sites because everyone else is doing it, but maybe they’re not right for you or your audience. Instead, perhaps a less common blog community, photo or video sharing site, or forum would end up bringing you more lasting benefit.
Another common belief is that it’s best to build the biggest audience as possible, when in reality a smaller but more targeted audience is much more beneficial. In that case, your readers will comment more and be more likely to think of you as an authority and someone to trust long-term.
If you are not writing, what other things do you enjoy doing?
I definitely like to stay active, and I find that taking time off to exercise will benefit me both physically and mentally, as it always seems to make me more productive afterward. I’ve played soccer since I was 5 years old and I still try to get out on the field whenever I can. It’s been more difficult the last couple of years to find regular games but recently I’ve been making a stronger push. In my spare time I also like to watch sports on TV. On a few occasions I’ve drawn up plans for a sports blog, but I think a part of me wants to merely enjoy the games as a fan and keep that interest separate from my writing and blogging life.
I’m also interested in web design, which you might have guessed since I can’t seem to go too long without launching some new site! I like to tweak and customize WordPress themes especially, and would like to take a crack at designing a plugin sometime soon.
10 things you need with you everywhere you go?
Even with all my interest in technology, I try not to be too attached to my gadgets when I’m on the go. But that said, if I’m going to be somewhere for a while, this is what I would want to take.
1) My phone. I continue to be amazed at the capabilities of these small devices that sit in our pockets, but I also try to limit the time I surf the web or check email on it. And sometimes I even leave it behind on purpose.
2) To go along with the phone, I was recently introduced to using a stylus, which I’ve found really helpful. Now if only I could actually remember to bring the thing with me!
3) Paper, in case I come up with an idea for writing. I often stick a small pencil or a pen in my pocket. I know I can take notes using various apps in my phone (and I often do this too), but I have yet to find one that can capture ideas in the way I like to write them freehand.
5) Music in some form: I have a large collection and often get hooked on different generes for long periods of time. A few of my recent favorites include Irish/Celtic folk, blues rock, and trance.
6) A few podcasts to listen to, preferably news, politics and business.
7) Books, whether they be paperbacks or files residing in my Kindle app.
8) A watch. For reasons I can’t quite articulate, I much prefer to look at the time on my wrist rather than use my phone for the same task.
9) A way to check the day’s sports scores. As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of soccer, and also watch a lot of baseball and basketball.
10) I always feel better with a few coins jangling around in my pockets. I get this from my dad, who has written a poem about it.
What are your major writing plans this year?
This year I plan to finish a book project I’ve been working on for a while with a friend. It’s a guide to individual soccer training aimed at younger players trying to make it to the next level. We cover fitness, skills and the mindset that it takes to be a successful player. Soccer, both playing and coaching, is a passion of mine, and we have a blog with strategy articles that we plan to expand when the book is completed.
Where can readers get a copy of you new book Savvy for the Social Web: The New Skills You Need to Survive and Thrive in the Digital Age?
I just got a new set of free promotion days from KDP select and I’d like to run a one-day free promotion for the day that the post goes live. That way readers can grab a copy free of charge. The url is here: http://www.amazon.com/Savvy-Social-Web-Survive-ebook/dp/B009FRSOU2
About Andrew Walsh (In his own words)
Information, in a variety of forms, consumes my life. I have a passion for crafting it myself but I also want to go deeper: I strive to learn as much as possible about its dissemination as well as its presentation and findability online.
As an academic librarian, I help others find, locate, evaluate, organize, and use information, most recently at the University of West Georgia as an Information Literacy Fellow. I’m fascinated by the potential of new platforms, such as blogging and social media, but I also appreciate the value brought by traditional publishing and I love to wander the bookstacks of a good library.
I received a Spanish degree in 2009 from Grinnell College, a small liberal arts institution in Iowa. After a year spent writing, I started the master’s program at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I’m especially interested in reference services, information literacy instruction, scholarly communication, information architecture, social media and
At Illinois, I worked as a graduate assistant for Reference, Research and Scholarly Services as well as the Literatures and Languages Library. I have provided reference assistance via several modes of communication, taught instructional sessions for students and library staff, and completed a variety of special projects. (View my complete LIS job experience.)
For the past two years I’ve also worked part-time as a writer and webmaster. Check out my writing portfolio and experience page to see some of the work I’ve done. Over this time I’ve created several websites, including Social Web Q and A, a blog that answers questions about social media, blogging, search engines and technology.
On the site, I share my take on dealing with a complex information landscape, a perspective shaped both by my academic LIS experience as well as my time interacting with bloggers and webmasters online. I also publish articles by guest authors ranging from web consultants to middle-school teachers.